I Saw A Film!

The first ten to fifteen minutes of this sprawling epic involving bison, wolves, sympathetic Native American portrayals and a rich tapestry of western vistas, add little to the better majority of this story. Watching Costner ride his horse directly into rebel enemy fire during the last stages of the Civil War, arms in the air, back arched, after having just leapt off an amputation table, where he was about to lose his leg, are quickly forgotten. He soon gets reassigned a remote outpost and we are treated to a poignant story, though, often punctuated with ham-fisted triteness.

It’s easy to pick on Costner for his massive scale projects from Waterworld to the Postman, and plenty of critics hammered all of it. This film, a fair fantasy of a sympathetic white man (Little Big Man style) was such a rarity that the film feels almost impossible as a matter of course. Costner’s Dunbar says it himself, the Native Americans were treated as little more than thieves and beggars by white America, and our ferocious mistreatment of them all the way to purposeful genocide are such awful historical foundations that we can barely stand to look at them closely. And yet, here we are, still with our legacy of “cowboys and Indians” solidly portrayed for decades the way the Israelis would like us to imagine the Palestinians, or the Ulstermen would like us to think of Catholic Ireland, or how the Chinese would like us to imagine their Uighur minorities, and on and on. I’m sure no one 100 years ago would have imagined a film like Little Big Man or Dances With Wolves. It was much easier, given the violent and racist circumstances, to simply hate the bad guys. It’s a kind of foul aspect of human nature that is hard to overcome. It takes tremendous effort that the majority of folks would be unlikely to take, especially since distrust is so inevitable on both sides of the isle.

of course, soon enough, the rest of the white folks arrive and Dunbar has gone native, like Lawrence of Arabia, and the unfortunately Dunbar can’t take Damascus with his Native troops. Bad stuff happens, but you get some tatanka hunting and amazing beauty. Graham Greene’s portrayal of Kicking Bird is a real show stealer. His is a distinctly noble and thoughtful character.

Running free on Prime (usa) and honestly an achievement film that’s too often overlooked.

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